Lately, when I watch the news I am more and more often reminded of a Star Trek episode cleverly entitled "Spock's Brain." In it the prerequisite nubile alien female humanoids steal Spock's gray matter in order to save their planet. We are led to deduce that they ned his brain because they don't have brains of their own. Of course, Captain Kirk can't let his first officer wander about witless and he leans on the aliens to release the captive, throbbing brain. After 40 minutes of back and forth, one of the alien women stamps her foot and whines, "BRAIN, BRAIN, WHAT IS BRAIN?"
There is so little thoughtfulness on television now that when I see an interview conducted by the likes of Lou Dobbs and Mr. Rose with genuine respect, time and interest in the subject matter, I am moved to tears and renewed with hope. But these Maxwell House moments are few and far between. For the most part, fear is medium and the message. Everything is sold by it and through it: politics, cars, insurance, medicine, homes, magazines, food. It has seeped into our cells the way pollutants drip slowly and invisibly into our aquifers. You can't see it, you can't taste it, and you can't point to it. But its presence is there nevertheless.
I have been working with fear and fearful people for twenty years. I was (and can still occasionally be) a fearful person. I have watched it, felt it, wrote about it, and helped heal people from it. As a result, I've learned a few things about fear, particularly what I call viral fear.
Fact One: Fear is necessary. It is a primary emotion, meaning it derives from the limbic system and is designed with the express purpose of promoting our survival, individually and as a species. It is an instantaneous response to a perceived threat. Interestingly pleasure takes upwards of 3 seconds for the brain to recognize, but fear takes literally no time at all. The reason is fairly clear: pleasure is nice but we don't require it to live. Fear is essential. It tells us a train is barreling towards us on the tracks and that we need to jump out of the way--NOW!
The point here is that not all fear is bad or useless and not all threats are empty. The wise amongst us will be able to discern what is true.
Fact 2: Fear CAN be misused. As the mystics have said over and over, intention manifests whether we like it or not. We, as a species, leak. When manipulated as a tool to promote an individual's or group's agenda, it is grossly misused and the individual towards whom it is directed has a few options, none of them good.
1. Because at some level we can recognize the existence of those ulterior motives, we do not sincerely believe we are endangered and become inured to the adrenal sirens. We go numb under the relentless battery of wave after wave of red alerts that no longer hold any meaning. This is the new version of the boy who cried wolf.
2. We become so afraid, are so constantly in a state of terror, that we become paralyzed. This is what I think most Americans have done. You can see that particular state of mind demonstrated in the amount of TV we watch, in the amount of food we eat, and in the amount of passive entertainment we require and demand. And always in increasing levels of intensity and quantity.
Fear is a powerful and painful motivator, as it well should be. But when misused, it is as dangerous as a random plutonium shower, invisibly infecting everything and perverting it all.